I realise that the idea may seem peculiar, but I decided to watch the film, "The Harrad Experiment", as a treat, alone at home, for Christmas Eve (my sixty-sixth Christmas in as many consecutive years of life, so why NOT something different?). I go back a long ways with the book on which the film is based, that's for sure, even if it has taken me so many decades to get around to viewing the movie!
I read the novel of the same title by the New England author, Robert H. Rimmer, which had become hugely successful in the latter half of 1960s, while I was an undergraduate student. I had gone back to studies after a lull of about three years between sophomore year of junior college in Southern California, at Long Beach City College, and my junior year at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. The novel, which so caught the feeling and the trends of those exhuberent years of the mid- to late-1960s and early 1970s, was first published in 1966. I read the 20th printing of the Bantam Books paperback edition. That was not all so long after 1966 as one might suppose from such a large number of printings! The novel was so hugely popular, controversial with parents, but adored by us college kids, that it galloped through one printing after another in very short time, before I would have read the novel in 1968 or 1969.
I even met, briefly, the author as I was reclining lazily on the grassy slope between Boston University and the Charles River, with my Harvard University brainy and cutely sexy gay boyfriend of the time. One of the mutual friends in our sun-loving party of students recognised and greeted Rimmer, which is how that encounter came to pass there. The friend then told us, as the author resumed walking onwards with his female paramour of the moment, what a sexually ravenous libertine Rimmer was with the much younger females whom he dated (or, at least, picked up) in great numbers and quick succession one after the other, now that the author had attained such celebrity and wealth due to the wide sales of, and the royalties from, his most famous book. Our group knew (or so we thought, from the reports circulating in the Boston-Cambridge rumour-mill) that "Harrad" College stood for Harvard University. Having seen, at last, the film, the ivy-encrusted, antiquely posh campus of Harrad does resemble Harvard in a generic (and smaller-scale) sort of way, but so, too, for that matter, does "Harrad" look rather like that "Harvard of the Southwest", Baylor University, and a lot more unlikely!
A couple of years after those pleasant years at U. Mass. Boston, as a graduate student at Kent State University, I was sitting in a lounge for K.S.U. graduate students sometime in 1971, when a group of us master's degree aspirants began to have a discussion about "top hit" mass-marketed novels which we variously had read. I brought up "The Harrad Experiment" and one of the girls chimed in that she had read the novel too. (This was not a particularly amazing coincidence, given the ongoing popularity of Rimmer's novel.) When I said that I had met Robert H. Rimmer, its author, this young woman became even more enthusiastic. She only recently had "lost her virginity", no doubt helped by the sort of licentious attitudes that this novel could inculcate into our student generation. Anyway, she asked me back to her apartment and we got down to discussing further, and more frankly, some of the sex scenes (several of which are quite kooky!) in the novel. She asked me, and I accepted, to try out some of the sexual technics which Rimmer describes in the book, which we did, one after the other, all the time with the paperback book at on her nightstand by the bed to consult between our peaks of carnal passion. Being young (in my mid-20s) and, lustily, more than a little multi-orgasmic, I stayed locked together inside her, never withdrawing or losing my erection between ejaculations, for four or five hours in bed, so I had the time to give her more (shared) orgasms in those few hours -- not bad for an essentially gay dude his first time having sex with a girl, eh? -- than she had ever had during her entire relationship with that uncomplicatedly heterosexual prior boyfriend at K.S.U. who had "deflowered" her (and for whom one lone orgasm was his limit on any outing). Fun! Whoopie! We kept on trying out Harrad sexual turns and stunts with each other, but we went "free-style" in our own way within a week or two of that. "Thank you, Robert Rimmer, wherever you may be" (six-feet under the soil, or ashes in an urn, since 2001)! The two of us lovebirds (and I had boyfriends "on the side" at K.S.U., as well) were parted at graduation -- in case someone is curious about that (which probably ain't the case: who would I be trying to kid?) and I went on eventually to another female lover the next year, and lots of boyfriends then and later, back in Boston, whither I had returned to assume the duties of my first professional position.
Ah, that magical "sweet bird of youth!" The novel and the film based on it, too, are quite dated now, as so many trendy excuses for fornication and promiscuity, of whatever period, eventually come to seem. However, "The Harrad Experiment" was path-breaking in its own way back in those days of such psycho-babbling literature that was so "hip" (and which sold so well) during those times, and, in only moderately culturally-evolved ways, still is (and does), for that matter.
The movie of the same title is as much a relic, but an endearing one, of its era as the novel itself is. Of the actors, the pair who enact the roles of the film's principal leading Harrad student couple, highly convincingly, make for two very good-looking 1970s college kids of late teens or early twenties in age. The boy actor is a still quite young Don Johnson (playing the part of the film's ever-libidinous Stanley Cole), a young male of all of the sensuous (and even rather androgynous) winsomeness that one could ask for, ruby-lipped and with long, silkily wavy hair, delectably slender and lithe, more sleek and smooth, really, than muscularly-developed! (With young guys this gorgeous, and there still are some of them around all these decades later, why do any guys ever end up "straight"? Well, surely there just are not enough youths quite in Don Johnson's exquisitely beauteous league to satisfy the demand!) For her part, Laurie Walters (as Sheila Grove) is not what one would call stunningly beautiful, but the doe-like, shy and delicate charm that Walters projects is very beguiling, as is her demure loveliness, dressed or buck-naked. What a pair these two young actors make! Their physical allure is all the more reason to regret that in becoming available yet again on DVD, the film still has continued to suffer, from what has been reported about it, the artistic indignity of having so much of the full frontal nudity (although a lot remains!) edited out or toned down. It was the lush abundance of such nakedness in the film which largely had made it seem so daring to its original cinema theatre audiences. The other sexually coupled characters, and the actors who play them, are well suited, dressed or buck-naked, to their respective roles. Regarding that irksome matter, of moments of nakedness having been excised from almost all of the commercial VHS and DVD editions of "The Harrad Experiment", which prevents the home viewer from seeing Don Johnson and the other actors in the most graphic full frontal nudity in the film, the Internet Movie Database (as accessed on 29.XII.2009) states that "[t]he late-1980s Wizard Video version contains the film completely uncut and unedited. This is the only version like this known to exist on video." Just try finding nowadays that elusive videotape (if you would like to undertake an exercise in frustration), on that label which so long ago went out-of-business!
The novel and the film alike are far from being any kind of literary or cinematic masterpieces, but I would venture to state here that the novel probably makes for a "fun read" even today (and even, at that, for today's high school and college youngsters). As for the movie, it is rather sweet, in its own 1970s lavender-scented way, as the novel itself is. The lines which the two married professors and the college kids in the film mouth, not unlike a lot of what Rimmer puts upon their lips in the novel, seem close to straight-out-of-the-book from various and sundry sex manuals and other literature on the subjects of sex therapy and sexual technics, inter-personal relationships, and similar pop self-absorptively muddle-headed stuff of the time, which has remained essentially the same kind of thing since then, too. Whatever the merits of "The Harrad Experiment", its sheer trans-media clout in furthering the movements of "free love" and the "Sexual Revolution" fully justify this celebratory edition which publishes the novel with some of the features of a "scholarly appartus".
So, concerning "Harrad Experiment" film lore, now it is time to pass on to the sequel, paired as it is with the orignal film in one of the DVD releases. Of lesser cinematic quality than the 1973 movie version of "The Harrad Experiment", the sequel, variously entitled "Harrad Summer" or "Love All Summer", has mostly a different cast for the roles which correspond to those in the 1973 film. The acting in the sequel is rather wooden and the cast members themselves are endowed with less memorably good looks compared to what the viewer finds in the original film and which have helped in no small measure to make it so treasurable. The sequel holds interest chiefly for those who remain sentimentally attached to all that "The Harrad Experiment" embodied and represented, for better and for worse, of the "free love" and polyamoury for which youth of the 1960s and 1970s longed and strove. The results of those yearnings and of yielding to urges to fornicate in reckless promiscuity, alas, often led to tarnished and barren lives in later adulthood and to loneliness in the subsequent years of advancing age, but the novel, and the two films based on it, retain the glow of the youthful aspirations and of the sensual abandon of the so-called "Sexual Revolution" of those two decades.
To Robert H. Rimmer (again, "wherever your bones or ashes are interred, Bob!"), I guess that I would have to say, "I am much indebted to you, Mr. Rimmer, in more ways than one, for 'The Harrad Experiment frenzy' that you spawned. I had quite a fine and frisky time of my own, thanks in some part to your novel, even if life has seemed all too blighted so many long years now after that!" For all of life's mixed feelings and caveats about this novel, the films, and the experiences of a youth lived during (and in the aftermath of) the "Free Love years", I rather regret that it took me so many decades to get around to seeing the film(s) or, as I intend to do, to read the novel anew!Read more ›